February 3, 2014

Roundtable: Recapping FSU's 2013 season

Florida State's 2013 football season was one for the history books: A Heisman Trophy winner, a national championship, and a return to national preeminence. Warchant's Gene Williams and Powell Latimer combine with Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel (You can read his Chopping Block blog here) to break down FSU's magical season, and where the Seminoles go from here.

1) After winning the Heisman Trophy and leading Florida State to a national title, Jameis Winston will likely go down as the greatest quarterback in school history. Will he also go down as the greatest "athlete" in school history or does he need to do more to pass greats like Deion Sanders and Charlie Ward?

Gene Williams: That all depends on what he does for the baseball team this spring. When you think of great "athletes" you think of players that excel in two or more sports. Winston has excelled at the highest possible level in football, but he's only been average, at best, in baseball. At the plate last season he batted just .235, second lowest among players that started at least half the season. On the mound the strong-armed pitcher posted a 3.00 ERA with a 1-2 record and had two saves. Yes, he had a couple YouTube worthy throw-outs last season but he will need to become a more complete player both at the plate and on the mound if he hopes to be mentioned in the same breath with an athlete like Charlie Ward who truly excelled at two sports while at Florida State.

Brendan Sonnone: The jury is still out on this one. It's fair to say that Winston is on pace to be the greatest quarterback in school history, but I'm not willing to say greatest athlete…yet.

Along with winning the Heisman, Ward was a key part of some of the best basketball teams in school history and went on to play in the NBA for more than a decade. Sanders, arguably the best cornerback in NFL history, is known for playing two baseball games and running in a track event in one day. He's tough to edge in this category.

Winston showed potential as a hitter and pitcher as a freshman, but was pretty raw in both aspects. He'll have to make a major jump in either category to put him in the category of "greatest athlete."

Powell Latimer: Right now, Jameis Winston owns the most complete, dominant, and efficient season by a quarterback in Florida State history. That's the fact. He's already among the pantheon of FSU greats, but if he wants to surpass Sanders and Ward and the like, Winston has to do it again.

If Winston can be close to as successful as Ward and Sanders, he's got to at least win the ACC and get into the playoffs. He doesn't have to win the Heisman again (whatever the prognosticators say, that's borderline impossible) but taking FSU to another national title game, much less winning it, would put him close to the top of the list.

2) How big of an impact with the loss of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt have on the defense going forward?

GW: Some. You can't discount the loss of a Broyles Award finalist who did a fantastic job with the Seminole defense this past season. Pruitt put his stamp on the defense and the players picked it up quickly despite having to adjust to an entirely new system. But Pruitt did inherit a fully stocked cupboard with elite level talent and a lot of experience. It was a given that FSU was going to have a very good defense regardless of who was given the title of "coordinator". But Pruitt did as well as could be expected with that talent and will be a tall, but not impossible, order for Fisher to keep it rolling with Charles Kelly running the show. Ultimately, the biggest blow could come on the recruiting trail, where Pruitt was one of the best.

BS: Losing Pruitt hurts, there's no doubt about it. He proved to be a crafty coordinator, capable of devising a scheme that fit his players. He was also sound at making in-game adjustments, something that impressed me given his lack of experience as a coordinator at the college level.

The bigger obstacle for FSU's defense to get over is how it will replace the four senior starters AND nose tackle Timmy Jernigan. Those seniors - namely Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith - had dynamic personalities and were unquestioned leaders. Jernigan was maybe the most important player on the defense.

With that being said, I think FSU has found a solid replacement in Charles Kelly (not official yet.) He's coached on both sides of the ball during his career, and, as FSU's linebackers coach, did a nice job of aiding in Terrance Smith's development this season. He has 3-4 experience, so FSU's scheme will not change dramatically.

PL: Let's be honest: Jeremy Pruitt is a very, very good defensive coach. His ability to make halftime and in-game adjustments is remarkable. But the flip side of the coin is holy Moses does FSU have talent on the defensive side. And even if FSU gets no further recruits, the Noles will be loaded again on defense. Those types of players are going to make any defensive coordinator look pretty good.

3) Outside of Winston, who was the most valuable player on offense?

GW: It's tough to name just one player on offense other than the starting quarterback. After Winston there were at least a dozen players all performing at an extremely high level but not one that clearly emerged out from Winston's shadow. It's a tough call for me between Bryan Stork, Devonta Freeman and Rashad Greene, but I'll go with Greene here. The speedy wideout led all receivers in catches (76) and yards (1128). While Benjamin scored more touchdowns, as he did in the national championship game, Greene often made the key catch that put the offense in a position to score (as he did on FSU's game-winning drive). Also, his elite speed stretched defenses allowing players like Kenny Shaw and Nick O'Leary to work underneath and make plays.

BS: I've gone back and forth on this for most of the season. The obvious answer is Kelvin Benjamin, because he was so dominant at times.

But I have to go with Rashad Greene. Although he doesn't wow you physically, he was just so consistent all season and his production opened things up for Benjamin later in the year. Winston leaned heavily on Greene early in the season, going to his favorite target several times in a row on certain drives. Greene finished with 76 receptions for 1,128 receiving yards and 9 TDs, and had four or more receptions in every game but two (in which he had three.) All he did was get open and catch the ball.

And when FSU needed him most, Greene delivered. He quietly had nine receptions for 147 yards in the national championship, including 57 yards on two catches while also drawing a pass interference during FSU's game-winning drive.

PL: Kelvin Benjamin is the trendy pick here, but I think it's Cameron Erving. Erving didn't quite do enough to solidify himself as a top pick this season, but he did a solid job of protecting Winston's blind side and giving him enough time to throw. That's sort of important for a pro-style, pass-heavy offense. Erving did struggle with Auburn's Dee Ford, but hey, so has everybody else. Shutting out Vic Beasley at Clemson was as important as anything else in FSU's dominant win early in the season.

4) Who was the most valuable player on defense?

GW: Even though he didn't have his best outing in the national championship game, I'm going with the Lamarcus Joyner. Timmy Jernigan would come in as a close second because his ability to dominate on the interior opened up everything for his defensive teammates. But the slight edge goes to Joyner because of his leadership and play-making ability. It's hard to imagine the defense being as dominating as it was if Joyner wasn't roaming in the secondary and mentoring young guns like P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews. And his relentless style rubbed off on his teammates both in games and in practices. He really was heart and soul of the Seminole defense.

BS:It's a tossup between Joyner and Jernigan, but I think Jernigan was simply more valuable. What he did is hard to replicate.

As a nose tackle in the hybrid 3-4 scheme, Jernigan was billed with drawing double teams to open things up for his teammates. He did so efficiently and willingly.

On top of that, Jernigan also put up gaudy numbers while playing within the scheme, amassing 63 tackles,11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Jernigan declaring for the NFL Draft leaves a massive void in the interior of FSU's defense.

PL: Mario Edwards. Timmy Jernigan was great in the middle, but FSU has incredible depth at DT, less so on the edge. Edwards was the least replaceable player for FSU as the guy who set the edge consistently for FSU. He was able to both defend the run and the pass as a 3-4 type end. That's incredibly important for FSU to clog the line with fewer rushers. Most notably, Edwards' pursuit and eventual tackle of Nick Marshall in the BCS title game showed just how disruptive Edwards had become.

5) FSU saw 11 players get drafted in the NFL last summer. Will this year's draft see a similar outpouring of talent getting picked? How many Seminoles will be drafted and which ones have a chance to go in the first round?

GWIt will be another banner year for Florida State and the NFL draft. I'm not sure FSU will reach 11 like it did last year but should be close, somewhere in the 8-10 range. There will probably be one or two first rounders with Kelvin Benjamin being the most likely player to hear his name called early. Timmy Jernigan also has a great shot of cracking the first round. In addition to Benjamin and Jernigan, Christian Jones, Bryan Stork, Telvin Smith and Lamarcus Joyner have a shot of being drafted in the top half of the draft but it would be a stretch for any of these four to crack the first round.

BS I think 11 might be a stretch in this year's NFL Draft, with 9-10 being a bit more realistic.

The four underclassmen who declared - RB Devonta Freeman, RB James Wilder Jr., DL Timmy Jernigan and WR Kelvin Benjamin - will all be drafted. So will these seniors: DB Lamarcus Joyner, LB Telvin Smith, LB/DE Christian Jones, DB Terrence Brooks, and OL Bryan Stork. WR Kenny Shaw is a wild card, and DL Jacobbi McDaniel is a long shot.

Depending on how they work out, I think Jernigan and Benjamin are locks to go in the first round. Joyner has a shot too if a team falls in love with him.

PL: I'll go with nine, though up close to 13 will sign pro contracts. I've seen projections that have Lamarcus Joyner, Kelvin Benjamin and/or Timmy Jernigan in the first round or early second round. I'd also think that Christian Jones,Devonta Freeman and Bryan Stork will go in the middle rounds.

One name to look out for is James Wilder, Jr.. He doesn't have a lot of mileage on him and you know he's going to impress pro scouts at the combine, and any team that needs a power back will probably give him a hard look.

6) FSU won the national title against an SEC school. Clemson beat a healthy Georgia to start the season and closed it out with a win against Ohio State. Should FSU fans feel better about the ACC as a football conference going forward?

GW: Absolutely, but there's still plenty of room for growth. I discussed this topic extensively in a column not too long ago.

BS: Slightly. The ACC is not a dumpster fire, but it's certainly top-heavy and lacks depth.

The addition of Louisville definitely helps. Plus I think coaches like Al Golden (Miami), Steve Addazio (Boston College), and Paul Chryst (Pittsburgh) all have the ability to keep pushing their teams in the right direction and give the ACC closer to 3 or 4 Top 25 programs.

The ACC does not need more than one legitimate title contender at a time to be relevant, but the league needs the middle-tier teams to emerge and get some key out-of-conference wins.

PL: FSU dominates Florida recruiting, is the most stable program in Florida and has made a practice of pulling guys from the SEC as well. Fisher is settling in for the long haul it appears, and he's feeling comfortable with his staff and unit, Jeremy Pruitt's departure notwithstanding. And even without Tajh Boyd, Clemson should be in position to provide reliable in-conference competition for the foreseeable future.




 

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